Every now and then, a conversation pops up in the GLBT romance world about why we do this, or whether writing romances about two men, or two women, or two men and a woman, or someone who's choosing between a man and a woman because they're attracted to both, or about someone who's transgendered, has any effect on the world besides giving its fans some entertainment.
I think it does. I think the cause of establishing that GLBT people are people first, are normal, are our family and friends and folks just like them, are people who are defined by so many other things that the kind of person they're attracted to or their gender identity is only one small part of the whole -- I think the cause of helping GLBT people win their rightful and equal place in our society is helped by any popular media that shows GLBT people as normal.
If I write a book where a gay man is a mage who casts spells and fights ogres and defeats evil, and falls in love while doing it, then that puts him on a level with every straight man in a similar book who did similar things. If someone else writes a book where a lesbian is a detective and solves mysteries with her wife, then that shows that lesbians are normal, and equal with every straight woman who solves mysteries in a book series. If there's a book where a transwoman becomes a barrel racing champion and is queen of the rodeo and wins the handsome cowboy, then that shows everyone who reads it that transwomen are women, and can be cowgirls, and can win, and can have love just like any other woman.
Torchwood was great at showing the world as it should be -- non-heteronormative, accepting gay and lesbian and bisexual people without a blink. (It would've been nice to get a trans person in there too, but I don't remember any.) In an early episode we saw Owen go home with both a woman and a man, and the point of the sequence wasn't even that he was bi; that was just detail of characterization. The point was that he was abusing alien tech in a particularly reprehensible manner. (Yes, GLBT people can be jerks; there's nothing wrong with showing that so long as we show the whole spectrum of behavior and personalities.)
And the episode "Captain Jack Harkness," set during WWII, showed a world where two soldiers could dance together and share an incredibly hot kiss in public, and the responses of the people around them ranged (judging by expressions, since no one said anything) from "Hot!" to "Awww!" to "Whatever." Realistic? No, not at all. Awesome? Oh, yeah. That's how the 1940s should have been, and I loved seeing that should-have-been world. We need reminders that the world isn't perfect yet -- we need to have books that show how much things used to suck and how much they still do -- but I think we also need to have books that show how things should be and should have been. We need both, so we can point at one and say, "This is what we have," then point at the other and say, "That's what we should have."
Portrayals of GLBT characters in movies and on television -- and in books -- still leave a lot to be desired. There are a lot of stereotypes, a lot of marginalization, a lot of tokenism. The fact that they're there at all is progress, though, and so long as creators keep working to improve portrayals, there's hope that we'll eventually show a full spectrum of characters, all kinds of people, three-dimensional and well developed, in our media. The fact that mistakes are being made isn't a reason to stop -- it's a reason to insist that we have to keep going and do better.
Studies have shown that those who personally know GLBT people -- family members, friends, co-workers, church members, neighbors -- are more accepting and less likely to support bigoted or oppressive laws and attitudes. Reading about GLBT characters can't have the same impact as knowing someone personally, but it has to be better than nothing. Seeing all kinds of people presented in the media as normal members of society, in all areas and all roles, can only help, even if only a little. If this is the best I can do as a writer to help make our society safe and accepting for all kinds of people, then I'm glad to help.